Unrelated Incidents

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Do your parents or teachers ever criticise the way you speak?

Do they claim their way of talking is correct whereas yours in incorrect?

Well, here's a poem that challenges some of those ideas about correct English.

Like 'Search for my Tongue, this is a poem about language and power.

Whereas Bhatt's poem refers to a foreign language, Tom Leonard refers to accents and dialects, comparing a Glaswegian voice to that of a 'BBC accent', or RP as it is technically termed.

An accent is how you pronounce words. Dialect is wider, and includes the vocabulary and the grammar of different areas.

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RP refers to 'received pronunciation'. This means a kind of standard, posh way of talking that some people hold to be superior to all other accents.

Forty plus years ago all BBC newsreaders talked with a home-counties, middle class accent.

Leonard believes these ideas are still common; that there is both prejudice against regional accents, and a tendency to associate truth with the middle classes: 'if a toktaboot thi trooth lik wanna yoo scruff yi widny thingk it wuz troo'.

Again like Sujata Bhatt, Leonard knows that your language is a big part of your identity. So criticising an accent as being 'incorrect' whilst holding another to be the 'right' way of saying things, is the equivalent of criticising a whole way of life and culture.

Middle class, snooty England in Leonard's poem, is saying it's superior to Working Class Scotland. Furthermore this view has large, powerful institutions,like television and the BBC, to support and re-enforce it.

Leonard totally rejects these ideas.

For instance he rejects conventional, standard spelling, and instead spells phonetically, imitating how the words sound in his accent.

The poem forcefully communicates its central idea: That the truth can betold in many voices, and that most ideas about superior and inferior accents and dialects are really just to do with prejudice and power.

Like a lot of other poets Leonard adapts his language to suit his purpose.

In his poem there are no fancy metaphors or poetic techniques drawing attention to the skill of the writing. This is a poem about an important issue. The skill comes in having the ear to write the way people talk, and do it convincingly.

In the overview I suggested that Leonard rejects the ideas that what might be called standard English language is superior to other regional dialects.

How does the poem illustrate this rebellion against conventional ideas and rules?

In the table below are examples of 'incorrect' English followed by some explanation by the world-renowned Linguistic expert, Lady Arabella Partridge-Smither,of what is 'wrong' with the writing. Unfortunately Lady Arabella's secretary is overworked and so some of the explanations appear to have been jumbled up.

Have a go at matching the explanations on the blue panels to the three quotes below by dragging them on to the relevant question marks:

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Lady Arabella's views might be extreme, but they are an exaggerated form of many commonly held biases and prejudices about language and culture.

Leonard also suggests that it isn't just the way we speak which effects how people react to us; it is also the way we look.

Somebody who is considered by middle England to be a 'scruff' is less likely to be listened to (and believed!) than someone who dresses smartly.

Form

Its form reflects the paired down, unconventional nature of the language of the poem.

As well as the lack of punctuation the short two or three word lines conveythe speed of speech, and create a sense of economy.

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Anything extra or fancy or unnecessary has been cut out. The language is hewn or chiselled, as if from rock. The poem is like a solid block.

The lack of stanzas also helps to create the feeling of a headlong rush of feeling in the poem. Without stanza breaks there isn't much time to pause for thought or reflection.

In all poetry questions you will be asked to write about the following:

  • The subject(s) of the poem
  • The attitude of the poet
  • The poetic devices the poet uses

In other words you will be asked about what the poet is writing about, what the poet feels about the subject(s) and how the poem is written.

Subject
The poem is about how people have prejudices for and against particular accents and dialects. It reflects how truth and objectivity is often associated with a certain kind of home counties PR BBC accent, and how this can mean other voices are marginalised, distrusted and disliked.
As language is a big part of culture and identity the poem is also about how 'Middle England' sees itself as superior to other regions. And how it criticises other cultures.

Attitude
Although this seems at first a funny satirical poem, it is also deeply felt and angry.
The BBC accented newsreader is shown to be aggressive, actively taunting the viewer and suppressing their language: 'belt up'.
It is difficult to tell who is speaking the second half of the poem, and this perhaps reflects the mutual feelings of hostility. The middle class presenter is hostile because he thinks the Glaswegian inferior; the Glaswegian is hostile as a result of this.

Style
Leonard manages to convey the way the Glaswegian accent sounds by writing phonetically.
His rejection of the claims and values of the 'standard' view is also represent d by his unconventional punctuation.
He makes his point by being perfectly understandable despite not following any rules for 'correct' English.
The paired down form of the poem suits this unfancy, realistic, straight-talking language. There are no breaks, no doubts, the poem is as solid as the views and culture it represents.

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